Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and
a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.”
The term “working mothers” is really a misnomer. Every wife and mother with a household to care for is a working mother. She probably puts in more hours of work a day than anyone else in her household. But what is most often meant by the term “working mother” is that mother who pursues a career outside of the home and family. The last article we wrote addressed the principle of Scripture that a mother’s calling toward her family is that she must “look well to the ways of her household” (Prov. 31:27). On that basis, a debate swirls around the question of whether a mother can indeed look well to the ways of her household while also pursuing a career. Is there such a thing as a supermom, as some claim, who is able to spend enough time with her children plus caring for the needs of the home and coordinate that with a career?
It is not the intent of this article to lay down a law that will forever dictate to mothers what they must do in every given circumstance of life. There are those who try to do this. A mother working outside the home, they say, is a sin. A stay-at-home mom is holier than a mother that works outside of the home. It does not matter if she is that woman described by Paul in I Timothy 5:13, “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things they ought not.” The mother may be busy volunteering for all kinds of things that take her outside the home, she may be out socializing with other mothers every day. All this seems not to matter, so long as a mother does not occupy herself in a job outside the home. There is that eleventh commandment, you know, that we must abide by in every instance: “Mothers, thou shalt not work outside the home.”
The Bible does not say that. God does not lay down such a law. His Word tells us that a wife and mother must be one who is a “keeper of the home” and one who “guides the house.” It does not dictate every circumstance that may arise in a household and family. Certainly the Word of God speaks of those areas of our lives that belong to our Christian liberty. In these areas we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We must not allow our flesh to dictate for us what we are to do, but we must determine what God desires of us in life. We must pray diligently and search God’s Word to determine what God would have us to do as a mother and father who are called to care for our children “to the utmost of our power” (baptism vows). There are conceivably times when a mother will work outside of the home and family.
There are times when families face financial hardships. Perhaps father has become disabled. Maybe he is laid off for a time. Perhaps mother can find a little something to do that will help supplement the income of her husband enough to make life a little less arduous, yet will not require her to be away from the children when they are home. Maybe the wife can earn some income while the children are there with her earning it too. There are all kinds of possible scenarios that can be found. The mother is not always and ever required to be in her home. Even the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 bought a field and worked it. She made fine linens and went to the marketplace and sold them. But none of this interfered with the fulfilling of her calling to look to the ways of her family.
By now there are probably some readers who do not like the direction that I seem to be heading. What is this, they may ask, is this article actually going to give its approval on “working mothers”? How can a mother look well to the ways of her household and work full time outside of the home and family? Impossible!
Agreed! There are those women who, sometimes even before they have children, are bent on pursuing a career. Children, they think, must not get in the way of that career. I have talents and abilities in the career choice I made before I was married, and I will not allow a home and family to stand in the way of pursuing that career. And there are many excuses that are made—such as, but we cannot afford to live as a family without a double income. Smaller home maybe? One less vehicle? No boat or snowmobile? The excuse is also heard, it is not the quantity of time I spend with my children, it is the quality of time. Is it? That sounds rather mechanical, does it not? “Okay, kids, I now have an hour or two to spend with you. What do you want to talk about. Got any soul-searching questions you want to discuss right now?” A child’s life is shaped and molded not simply by means of quality time but by means of simply being there for the child so he can ask the question when it comes to him and not need to save it for the “quality time.” Besides, nurturing and disciplining is a full-time job. This cannot be done in a few hours. It needs to be done regularly.
Neither is there such a thing as a supermom. No doubt some women are well disciplined and run a “tight ship” in their own lives and in the lives of their children. But there simply is no replacement for mom being there with her children. No babysitter, no nanny, no daycare is a replacement for a mother or a father. A parent needs to be with the children. This role is given in Scripture primarily to mother.
Now I have addressed both extremes. So no one is happy!
But this is not the end of the matter. Consider what the Bible teaches us. It does not need to set down a law to dictate every little instance that arises in the life of a family. It does not rob God’s people of their liberty to make decisions that may vary from one family to the next. But the Bible does set forth the way of wisdom. God’s Word addresses mother and father as covenant parents. God has established His friendship and fellowship with us. We cherish that! We need to know that God loves us and will care for us each day of our lives. In the midst of our struggles and hardships in life there is nothing dearer to us than to hear God say to us, “Fear not, I will not leave you or forsake you!” The truth of God’s covenant is so precious to us in our lives!
Well, God tells us that He establishes that covenant with us and with our children in our generations. God promises us that the covenant friendship He shares with us He will also share with our children. Every covenant parent clings to that promise of God. But such friendship with us in our generations does not just fall from the sky! God establishes that covenant in those families where father and mother are careful to spend time with their children in the home and family instructing them diligently in the fear of the Lord. This does not mean to say, of course, that our children are saved on the basis of father and mother and what they do. But it does mean that God uses the godly instruction of father and mother as a means to carry on His covenant in the next generation.
The urgent calling of a mother then is this: do not let anything deter you from spending time with those children in the home teaching them God’s ways! So much ought we to be concerned with the spiritual welfare of our children that no career or desire for extra money may stand in the way of being there for them! Spiritually weak homes produce, for the most part, spiritually weak children. And what we must not forget is that this has profound implications also for the church. For the children in the church today will be the leaders (the ministers, the elders, the deacons, the fathers, the mothers) of the church tomorrow. When fathers, therefore, do not today walk in their calling, and when mothers are out pursuing careers rather than looking well to the ways of their households, this touches not only the home but also the church. Spiritually weak homes will eventually make for a spiritually weak church.
Here is the principle of Scripture: a mother must look well to the ways of her household. Yes, there is liberty as to how that is fulfilled. But, in those young women who marry in the church, there must be a desire to be a keeper of the home. Why? Because being a mother in Zion is the best, the most glorious, the highest calling a woman of the church can fulfill. Yet remember, too, it is also the most time-consuming, difficult, and challenging work a woman can do. But then, look at the rewards! Look at the payment! “Thou shalt see thy children’s children and peace upon Israel” (Ps. 128:6).
There has to be added to this one additional bit of instruction. This comes to husbands and children. Sometimes the work of a mother in the home can be a thankless position. Mother certainly does not see any monetary reward for what she does in the home. For that reason husbands and children must pay her. No, not money! They must pay her their love and their praise. Husbands and children must rise up and call her blessed. They must thank her and praise her for expending herself on their behalf. Not only husbands are to thank their wives and speak of their love for them, but children must too. This is the reward of a godly mother in Zion. And more, mothers ought to be remembered in our family prayers. Husbands and children ought to thank God for that wife and mother who is concerned with the spiritual welfare of her family.
Mothers? “Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised!” (Prov. 31:30). Your work in the home and family may be despised by the unbelieving world. It may be belittled and scorned! But you are a blessing to our families and to the church of Jesus Christ in this world. We thank God for you!